When It Comes Time To Instigate Change

New eBook from Thought Leader Patrick J. McKenna.


The Challenge of Implementing Your Initiatives

I once heard it said that a consultant is like a seagull; they fly in from afar, circle your head a few times, drop something white in your hands and you think it’s a report. Only some time after they have departed do you realize what this white stuff really is!

I have since come to conclude that the catalyst for this analogy likely stems from those firms who have had the misfortune of either retaining advisors who are not adequately trained in how to bring about organizational change, or those that prefer not to get their hands dirty in the implementation of their grandiose recommendations.

Indeed, every few years a new theme emerges in law firm management. There was a time and perhaps it still exists where we witnessed resistant attorneys being forced to take the marketing of professional services seriously. We have all since observed initiatives like total quality management, branding programs, alternate billing methods, and project management assume center stage. Meanwhile, many of our skeptical and often times, senior partners have chosen to sit on the sidelines, reflecting upon what this new initiative is all about. Truth be told, these are your partners who are likely to be advising some junior in your firm to “keep your head down, billables up, as this too will pass.”

So why is it that these professionals are so skeptical? All too often, it is a direct result of our gravitating to the temptation of adopting techniques that have us, either attempting to persuade, coerce or sell our colleagues on some new initiative.

Meanwhile, as firm leader or practice chair, you sit there pulling your hair out and wondering:

  • why, when threats or opportunities are so clearly evident, do my extremely intelligent and highly talented colleagues NOT SEE the need to make changes in their personal and/or professional behavior?

  • and why is it, when these partners DO see the need to make changes in their behavior, do they often still FAIL to take any real decisive action?

  • and further, when these partners finally do take decisive action, why is it that they then fail to PERSIST – and stick with the critical exercise program?

Our professional landscape is littered with firms who introduced various “flavor-of-the-month” programs. Every so often, one of those initiatives produced some favorable results. However, even those firms with the best of results have had difficulty sustaining progress. If everyone is talking about how critical it is to be adaptive to marketplace changes and flexible in being quick to implement some new innovative program, why is it that so few firms are actually able to achieve this goal?

I believe every firm faces an inevitable tension between what it is and what it intends to become. Yet how do you, as a conscientious firm leader or practice chair, ensure that your efforts and priorities are treated seriously such that they become more than just some passing fad?

Here are my four propositions:

#1 Whenever you are about to initiate any new strategy, program, direction, initiative or idea, it’s successful implementation will usually always require some or all of your partners to change their behavior, in some way.

#2 The only way in which to introduce and sustain any kind of behavior change within any law firm is . . . one partner at a time.

#3 Your firm will only travel as far and as fast as each partner, and then all partners collectively, are prepared to change their individual behaviors.

#4 Any hope you have, to bring about a successful new strategy, program, direction, initiative or idea is directly correlated to the amount of time, energy, and enthusiasm you are prepared to devote to coaching and helping each partner see the need for change, the need to take action, and the need to follow through.

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